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Transformation steel production: Two routes will lead to high-quality steel

Transformation steel production: Two routes will lead to high-quality steel

We are joining the trend to decarbonize steel production by going the electric arc furnace route. The basis for green steel is the pioneering technological transition from the blast furnace route to the use of electric arc furnaces powered by green electricity. Here we explain what will stay the same, and what will change.

Aerial view rendering of new voestalpine hybrid steel plant
In this article

We will remain a reliable producer of premium quality steel products. These products will continue to improve because we will reduce the emissions generated during their manufacture. greentec steel creates the technical preconditions for this transition, and is simultaneously Austria’s large climate protection program.

voestalpine steel, one way or another

In the future, there will be two routes to producing high quality steel: using either a blast furnace and converter, or an electric arc furnace (EAF). Both process routes have been in use for decades, and successfully applied according to their strengths. However, climate change is encouraging significant enhancements to the traditional EAF route. The high level of CO2 emissions generated by the large quantities of coke consumed in the blast furnace route can be significantly reduced using an EAF— assuming sufficient availability of green electricity.

The path to climate friendly steel

We are known for producing excellent steel using both methods. However, we can only achieve our goal of CO2-reduced steel production with an EAF. greentec steel is our decarbonization program that takes a phased approach to reducing CO2 emissions. We will reduce emissions by 30% as early as 2027 by commissioning the first EAFs in Donawitz and Linz, and simultaneously shutting down a blast furnace at each site.

The traditional route

For decades, work has gone into optimizing the blast furnace and converter route in which coke is added to reduce iron ore, producing liquid, carbon-rich pig iron. In the LD converter, oxygen is then blown over the pig iron to remove unwanted elements. The next step is to process the crude steel according to customer specifications.

The EAF route

Producing crude steel in an EAF is also a tried-and-tested method. The main difference to the blast furnace route lies in the energy and raw material sources. Using electricity generated from renewables is a key step in decarbonizing steel production. In this route, scrap largely replaces iron ore. Depending on availability and quality requirements, liquid pig iron or HBI (hot briquetted iron) can also be used. The materials fed into the EAF are heated by an electric arc and melted. After tapping an EAF, the next step is processing the crude steel using the standard secondary metallurgy processes.

What are the advantages of an EAF?

The use of an EAF changes the landscape of our crude steel production significantly. The primary advantage of an EAF is the lower CO2 emissions:

tons CO2 per ton of crude steel
0 t
EAF with 100% scrap
tons CO2 per ton of crude steel
0 t
EAF with scrap + HBI
tons CO2 per ton of crude steel
0 t
Compared to blast furnace & LD converter

There are also other technological advantages:

  • The large capacity of an EAF, with maximum availability and flexible process control,
    permits a new batch roughly every 50 minutes
  • An EAF can be activated/shut down within just a few minutes (only when empty!)
  • Very high quality steel grades can be produced using correspondingly high quality source materials, e.g., HBI or high quality scrap
  • Flexible choice of starting materials (scrap, HBI, pig iron)
  • Rapid change of vessel: When the EAF requires a new refractory lining, it is simple to exchange vessels so that production can continue. This is not possible with an LD converter.
    Time spend on changeover: Approx. 8 h for an EAF; downtime for LD crucible: 4-5 days.
Rendering of new voestalpine hybrid steel plant

Disadvantages of the EAF route

To be honest, using only EAFs also poses some challenges. These include:

  • No emission of process gases from the coking plant, blast furnace, and LD steel plant which can be used to generate electricity in house.
  • The EAF is less able to remove sulfur, which is an impurity introduced by the raw materials. More effort is required to remove it during secondary metallurgy.
  • Scrap adds far more trace elements into the steel production process than ores. Their accumulation has an impact on the technological properties of the steel.

Research and development work at voestalpine is developing technologies to master these challenges. For example, we are improving the options for preparing and sorting scrap.

Continued demand for expertise.

It is clear that the transformation of the steel industry is also having an impact on occupational profiles. The technological shift to EAFs is creating new perspectives for voestalpine’s current and future employees. Therefore when it comes to greentec steel, no jobs will be lost following decommissioning of the first blast furnace. Once you are part of voestalpine, you remain a part of voestalpine.

More about our decarbonization strategy

Our focus on greentec steel

Within the framework of our focus greentec steel, we provide an overview of our concrete steps on the way towards long-term CO2-neutral steel production and the innovative processes we are using on this way. We provide information about the challenges we face and the breakthrough technologies we are already researching today in order to achieve our goal of CO2-neutral steel production by 2050.

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voestalpine AG

Die voestalpine ist ein weltweit führender Stahl- und Technologiekonzern mit kombinierter Werkstoff- und Verarbeitungskompetenz. Die global tätige Unternehmensgruppe verfügt über rund 500 Konzerngesellschaften und -standorte in mehr als 50 Ländern auf allen fünf Kontinenten. Sie notiert seit 1995 an der Wiener Börse. Mit ihren Premium-Produkt- und Systemlösungen zählt sie zu den führenden Partnern der Automobil- und Hausgeräteindustrie sowie der Luftfahrt- und Öl- & Gasindustrie und ist darüber hinaus Weltmarktführer bei Bahninfrastruktursystemen, bei Werkzeugstahl und Spezialprofilen. Die voestalpine bekennt sich zu den globalen Klimazielen und verfolgt mit greentec steel einen klaren Plan zur Dekarbonisierung der Stahlproduktion.